In just a year and a half, Ahmed Shafiq went from a sacked prime minister tainted by his association with ousted leader Hosni Mubarak to a final contender in Egypt's first post-revolution presidential election.
After winning nearly 24 percent of the votes in the first round of the election, he advanced to a June runoff against Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammad Morsi.
His swift comeback shocked many in Egypt. It likely owes much to the deterioration of security in Egypt since the uprising that displaced Mr. Mubarak, and Shafiq’s background in the military and image as a strongman capable of bringing Egypt back under control.
Shafiq, like Mubarak before him, came into politics by way of the Air Force. He graduated from Egypt’s Air Force Academy in 1961, and fought in Egypt’s wars with Israel in subsequent years. His campaign recently claimed that during the “War of Attrition” with Israel between 1967 and 1970, he shot down two Israeli planes. He rose through the ranks to become commander of the Air Force. According to an official biography, he has a master’s degree in “military sciences” and a PhD in the “national strategy of outer space,” though it is not specified from which institution.
Mubarak appointed Shafiq minister of civil aviation in 2002, tasking him with turning around the ailing national airline. He also oversaw renovations and additions to Cairo’s airport.
In the waning years of Mubarak’s regime, his name was sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to the aging president. In January 2011, days after massive protests against Mubarak began, the embattled president appointed Shafiq prime minister in a cabinet reshuffle. He retained that post less than a month; the military formed an interim ruling council after Mubarak was ousted on Feb. 11, 2011.
Shafiq came back into the spotlight after Islamist parties won more than two-thirds of parliament seats, and he draws support from some who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties. Shafiq has also talked tough about protests, vowing to end them, and has pledged to “restore order” to Egypt within hours of being elected. That position garners favor with those who believe protests are a main cause of Egypt’s instability, a view often put forward by state media. In the past, he has been open about his closeness to Mubarak, saying as recently as April that he admired the former president.
Some voters say his no-nonsense image is appealing at a time when Egypt is plagued by instability. They say the next president needs a strong hand to restore security.
“The most important thing is that he has a military background, which makes him capable to manage the country during this period. Security is the No. 1 concern,” said Adel Shehata, who voted for Shafiq in the Cairo district of Imbaba. He also cited Shafiq’s history as a veteran and his role in building the airport as proof of his strength and management skills.
Others voiced confidence that he was a dependable choice. “We know this man, we know his history, and we know what he’s going to do,” said Amal Khamis Mahmoud, a government employee who lives in Imbaba.
While Shafiq campaigns on stability, however, his win might bring the opposite. Many in Egypt ardently oppose him for his connection to the old regime and his stance on the uprising. When the elections commission announced he made it into the runoff, a small band of protesters set fire to his campaign headquarters; his total victory would likely cause far larger demonstrations.